Monday, July 23, 2007

Even Jane Austen is No Jane Austen

In a recent article in The Guardian, Steven Morris tells about his experiment with eighteen publishers and literary agents in Great Britain to see if they would consider Jane Austen’s work publishable. He slightly modified the opening chapters of three different novels and sent them to various publishers as unsolicited manuscripts.

Not only were none of the publishers or agents interested, but only one of the eighteen actually recognized the work as Austen’s! One publisher (Penguin) went so far as to say, “Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read.” Morris had even used Austen’s original title for Pride and Prejudice in his experiment.

It does make one wonder what the criteria is for publishable works and if the transient, gimmicky, disposable aesthetic of modernity has supplanted the place of timeless classics. Of course, it could just be that serious readers are harder to come by.

2 comments:

Paul said...

The "minor changes" are not detailed, but it could well be that the idiomatic English that publishers are looking for today is much different from Austen's 18th century prose.

book-end said...

When I was doing graduate work in England, I got a kick out of typing passages from the works of Austen, Bronte, Dickens, etc. and noting the computer-grammarian comment on their writing skills, and patronising placement of grade levels.